by Kathleen Dolan
Stephen Klasko, M.D., MBA, the president of Thomas Jefferson University and chief executive officer of Jefferson Health, spoke at the 26th Annual Biomedical Distinguished Lecture Series to discuss the changes needed to ensure a future in which healthcare professionals, patients, and artificial intelligence can exist efficiently and harmoniously.
In his lecture, “Is there an Avatar in the House: The Changing Role of Healthcare Professionals in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (AI),” Klasko described innovations in healthcare and higher learning that use new technologies to reshape and improve healthcare. For example, he described how wearable technologies can be embedded in attire to allow for constant monitoring of vital signs and how Alexa-like devices text updates to physicians.
“This is not science fiction,” Klasko said in his lecture, delivered at Chestnut Hill College on Nov. 6. “I need you to get into a 2029 mindset — I want you to think about what happens in 2029 and beyond.”
Klasko said technology is already transforming the healthcare industry.
“My ability to take care of an individual patient in the last 35 years has skyrocketed,” Klasko said.
But the way patients access the system hasn’t changed, he added. AI, however, is beginning to change that.
“We still have people coming to the office, driving to the city, just to get weighed three times a week,” Klasko said of patients with congestive heart failure for which gaining weight is an indicator of whether the heart is working. “At Jefferson, we have gotten rid of all that, and for those kind of patients, we’ve given them scales that they can get on at their own home, and we have AI that can tell us of the problem.”
Klasko outlined his brief time working at Apple, where he found inspiration in the philosophy of Steve Jobs, the late CEO of the company. He conceived such ideas as pairing young mothers with doctors via online applications and connecting patients with doctors on Jefferson’s telemedicine service, Jeffconnect.
Klasko is an obstetrician, gynecologist, businessperson, and educator. He has grown Jefferson Health into a regional health network, expanding it from three hospitals to 13. Modern Healthcare included him on its 2017 list of the “Top 100 Most Influential Individuals,” and Becker’s Hospital Review named him as one of the top physicians to know in the country. He is the author of two books, his latest being “Bless This Mess: A Picture Story of Healthcare in America,” which uses illustrations to describe the U.S. healthcare system and explore solutions that could transform it.
Klasko said that while AI is a large storage tank for medical information and will ultimately alter the healthcare industry for the better, the need for human connection, such as a doctor offering comfort or encouragement to a patient, cannot be replaced. For that reason, medical students at Jefferson are taking courses in compassion and empathy. This ensures the relationship between doctors and patients remain paramount in these ever-evolving times.